Compare Plane and Ship Travel

by Emily Dopp

Published on 15 Apr 2023

Travel Time

Reasons for use.

When you travel from North America to another continent, you have two basic modes of travel: flying on an airplane or sailing on a ship. Both methods will get you to your destination, but they have vastly different appeals and downsides. If you think how sailing ships have crossed oceans for hundreds of years, while planes have only delivered passengers overseas for decades, you can get an idea of the different flavors of the two methods of travel. Curious about which method to take for your next vacation? Read on.

The most significant difference between plane and ship travel is the amount of time it takes to reach your destination. Most flights take just a few hours, and even the longest flights never last longer than one day, usually involving layovers. Ship travel, on the other hand, always involves multiple days to reach an overseas destination. A flight from New York City to London may take about 11 to 12 hours. Transatlantic freighters or cruise ships, on the other hand, average four to five days, not including side trips along the way.

Commercial flights are significantly less expensive than commercial sea travel. You can fly from New York to London for less than $1,000, in most cases, but travel cruise lines can cost two to three times as much. Because the cruise industry and cruise travel is for experience and pleasure, it is more expensive.

  • If looking to travel by cruise economically, Carnival Cruise Line is regarded as the most affordable cruise line.
  • On the other hand, if you are not in a hurry to reach your destination and have a shipshape skills, you may be able to sign on to a commercial vessel or cargo ship as a hand and sail for free.

Airlines have no such alternative without significant training time.

If you are looking for another inexpensive sea alternative, many freighter lines offer limited berths for a small number of people each crossing. The accommodations are basic but comfortable and the cost can run as little as under 100 Euros a day. The cost in American dollars varies, depending on the exchange rate.

Both flying and sailing are statistically very safe ways to travel overseas.

In 2010, worldwide air travel averaged one accident for every 1.6 million flights. Cruise-ship accidents, on the other hand, are harder to count. Not every country is required to report its accident numbers to a governing body.

The International Maritime Organization counted more than 1,600 cruise ship fatalities back in 2010, but even that isn't certain.

One thing should be noted: once you are in a plane accident, there is very little you can do.

Cruise safety is a little more secure. If your cruise ship goes down, following the rules about safety and listening to crew members will significantly improve your chances of survival.

Accidents do happen, but even in the foundering of Costa Concordia, the vast majority of the ship's passengers got onto dry land in relative safety.

People travel for many different reasons, but they usually only fly for one: to reach their destination in the quickest time possible. There are people who enjoy flying, but it's the rare passenger who purchases an airline ticket simply to experience airline travel. Flying is the fastest mode of transportation currently available to the public.

Those who travel on cruise ships make the cruise itself all or part of their vacation. Cruise ships are large, floating hotels with all the amenities of any other, including casinos, clubs, bars, multiple restaurants and entertainment all hours of the day or night. If a flight might be said to be a means to an end, a cruise is often the end in itself. Even traveling on a freighter is part of the vacation adventure, as it may take even longer, depending on the ports of call.

Airline passengers flying in coach are treated to the most no-frills travel experience possible. They may be offered a small snack such as a tiny bag of pretzels and a small glass of soda or water, and on longer flights are often offered a small sandwich box for purchase. First-class passengers get drinks and a meal, but they are not much more comfortable than their colleagues in coach on many airlines. While there are airlines that offer seats that turn into beds, seats that change into small cabins and other high-end amenities, these are the exception instead of the rule. Other than necessary trips to rest rooms and short strolls in the aisle, airline passengers are requested to stay in their seats with their seat belts fastened.

Cruise passengers, on the other hand, can enjoy the best of everything. Food is offered in many venues multiple times a day. Ships offer activities from day excursions to exotic ports to readings from famous authors. Cruise passengers enjoy a comfortable bed, room to move, personalized exercise and other classes and every other perk you might expect at a high-end hotel.

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Is Ship Travel Cheaper Than Flying? The Surprising Answer

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In a world full of ways to get a good deal on travel, deciding which mode of transportation will be best for your wallet can be tricky. I usually assumed flying would always win out, with all the budget airlines out there. However, maybe flying is just the most common mode of transportation.

So, is ship travel cheaper than flying? Traveling by ship is generally cheaper than commercial flying. When comparing trips to and from the same place, traveling by sea often comes out to be the cheaper option. However, the type of airline and type of boat travel would impact this cost, with cargo and freight boats being the cheapest options.

In this article, I’ll be explaining more in detail why ship travel is cheaper than flying. I will also clarify the different categories of both types of travel and the pros and cons of picking the most affordable option.  

Different Types of Flying

There are different types of flying , but not all of them are available for public use. 

While budget and traditional commercial airlines are available to anyone with a valid ID and airfare, private or charter flights are a bit more expensive and available on a limited basis. Most charter flights give you more flexibility and take you to places that commercial airlines don’t go.

Let’s talk more about these types of flying.

Low-Cost or Budget Airlines

These airlines are the ones you hear about most often when it comes to getting good deals on flights. Budget flights are typically much cheaper than those of other commercial airlines. This is usually because they fly out of smaller and less central airports. 

Low-Cost or Budget Airlines

Southwest airlines are one example of a budget airline. 

They also tend to have more restrictions on the amenities included in the cost of a ticket and are less flexible as far as cancellations are concerned.

Traditional Commercial Airlines

Traditional commercial airlines are the airlines you hear of most often, such as American or Delta Airlines. They tend to be more expensive than budget airlines but often offer more services and options than their cheaper competitors. 

Traditional airlines are typically the airlines you’ll be able to earn loyalty points or airline miles with.

Private or Charter Flights

Private flights are the most expensive of the flight options I’ll mention. They can also be further classified into two other categories:

  • Privately owned planes
  • Chartered planes

Both of these options are much less widely available due to their costs but allow passengers the widest amount of flexibility. That is because passengers are given much more freedom to choose their desired flight time and airport. 

Freight passengers are also usually allowed the freedom to roam around the flight cabin and don’t have to worry about sharing their plane with strangers.

Different Types of Ship Travel

While it’s been shown that ship travel is cheaper than flying, that isn’t the case for all types of sea travel. So, it’s important to know the difference between some of the most common ways you can travel by boat.

Private or Charter Yachts

Traveling via a private yacht is similar to traveling via a private plane in that it can be subdivided into two categories: 

  • Privately owned yacht
  • Chartered yacht

This method of boat travel is much more expensive than its counterparts, but it is the most comfortable. Private yacht travel allows more travel freedom, privacy, and customization than other boat travel forms.

Private or Charter Yachts

Cruise Ships

Traveling on a cruise ship is the most common mode of boat travel. While cruises were considered a luxury form of vacation at one time, they have become much more accessible in price over recent decades. 

In fact, when planning a trip, it is possible to find a cheaper cruise compared to other types of vacations. 

This is because, while not entirely all-inclusive, your essential amenities are covered by your cruise cost.  Thus, you save money on food and lodging, and you don’t have to plan those items in advance.

These two things are often where you spend the most money during a vacation when you take out travel costs. 

However, while cruise ships are technically a mode of transportation, you are limited in where you can go. 

Often cruises will travel in a “loop” that will begin and end in the same port. So, if you need to go somewhere specifically in a one-way capacity, or you’d like the freedom to decide when your return trip will be, cruise ships likely won’t be for you.  

Freight or Cargo Ship

While perhaps not the most glamorous type of travel, traveling by freight or cargo ship is most often a cheaper travel option than flying. 

Most people may be unaware that traveling this way is even an option due to its name. It’s true that freight and cargo ships often transport goods, but you can purchase a ticket to travel that way as well. 

Even though this type of boat travel is less expensive than the previous two types mentioned, passengers don’t have to give up all the flexibility they do with budget flight options. For example, you can choose to travel by freight ship on a one-way voyage, which is different from many cruise ships. 

Since we’ve found our winner on what is, most often, the cheaper method of travel, the rest of this article will look at the ins and outs of freight ship travel specifically. 

What Makes Ship Travel Cheaper

If you have ever looked into shipping items internationally, you might have compared air and sea shipping prices. When it comes to shipping items, sending packages by sea is often much more affordable than sending them by air. 

What Makes Ship Travel Cheaper

The same rationale for this price difference also explains why ship travel is cheaper than air travel. 

Ship Travel Takes Longer

Perhaps the biggest reason why ship travel is cheaper than air travel is often one of the reasons why it’s often the less opted-for option. 

Air travel is much faster than ship travel, and a voyage that could be 9 hours by plane can easily be multiple weeks by ship, even without delays. This might be a neutral point for people who intend to make their trip a one-way voyage. 

However, people looking for vacation travel options may want to avoid eating up so much vacation time on travel time. 

The idea of being on a boat for days or weeks at a time might make other travelers anxious. Passengers who suffer from seasickness, in particular, will likely want to avoid this way of traveling at all costs. 

While there are definitely drawbacks to being stuck on a boat for an extended period of time, this factor significantly contributes to ship travel being the cheaper option. 

Ships Aren’t Very Reliable

This factor might sound scary, but if you’re worried that ships might not be reliable about getting you to your final port, then don’t fear. You’ll get to your destination. 

However, you know how I just mentioned that a ship could potentially take weeks to get to a destination even if there aren’t any delays?  You might not be surprised to find out that delays are widespread when it comes to sea travel.

While it’s true that flights are often delayed or canceled due to bad weather, these delays usually don’t extend for too long.  Unless there are severe weather conditions like a blizzard or a hurricane, flights will usually be able to pick up again within a few hours. 

This isn’t the case with ship travel. 

Bad weather can delay ships by days, weeks, or even months. That’s because, since boats are slower than flights, they can’t “outrun” an oncoming storm as easily.

They also can’t be sure they’ll be able to pass through a part of the sea or ocean before stormy weather starts to form as a plane can. 

This means your ship might be delayed for a few reasons:

  • Your captain has slowed down to be more careful through a storm.
  • Your captain has completely stopped at times to let a storm pass.
  • Your captain has decided to take a longer route to go around any bad weather.

However, not only can these delays cause problems once you’re already on board, but they can cause your trip to be delayed from the start. If a captain feels like bad weather might be about to form nearby the port, your departure can be postponed until the weather has cleared up. 

This sort of unreliability can be another potential drawback for some travelers. 

You might avoid this travel method despite the lower cost if you have a very tight schedule you have to or would like to keep to. However, since schedule reliability can’t be guaranteed, ship travel is usually more cost-effective, assuming you don’t mind a longer journey ahead of you.

Feight Ships Lack Luxury

While freight ship travel isn’t quite as bare-boned as it used to be, it’s still not the most comfortable way to travel. Since the priority for freight ships is cargo transportation, they’re meant to be utilitarian. 

Feight Ships Lack Luxury

That means no pretty decorations, no comforts like a spa or a restaurant, and no “fancy” cabins with a balcony and a view. However, you don’t have to pay for all of those luxuries, which can save you a lot of money.

You don’t have to worry about staying in a cabin the size of a tin can. You’ll still usually be given plenty of room with a full-sized bed, a private bathroom, and even a television. 

Sure, the ship itself won’t be much to look at, but you shouldn’t have to worry about feeling the waves too much if you aren’t prone to motion sickness. You also won’t have as many crowds as you might on a cruise ship, so it’s a trade-off that can be worth it. 

If you don’t mind being in slightly less than ideal conditions for a few weeks while still having all your needs met as far as basic comfort, food, and lodging, then it might be worth traveling this way.

No Tourist Itinerary

I’ve already mentioned that freight ships don’t have many amenities because they’re meant to be first and foremost shipping vessels. That means that, as a passenger, you have to keep yourself from getting bored. 

While every so often you might run into a member of the crew in a rec room or onboard gym, when they’re there, they’re off the clock and not meant to entertain you. 

Since you’re stuck on a boat, you can’t just go out to find a method of entertainment. You also likely won’t have a great internet connection, if any, and you won’t have scheduled activities you can participate in.  

That means you’ll have a lot of time when you will have to keep yourself entertained, which can be daunting. 

However, the fact that you’re going to be your own source of fun and entertainment is part of why you’ll save money traveling this way.  When you buy your ticket to be a cargo ship passenger, you’re purchasing the basic comforts we’ve already talked about. 

You also get the freedom to walk around the ship, but try not to get in anyone’s way, as this is a work ship, and people are working rather than relaxing. Since you aren’t paying for any activities or shows, you can save a lot of money. 

If you think you and your travel party can keep yourselves entertained for extended amounts of time when you can’t travel too far, then traveling by freight ship might be the way to go. 

Conclusion: Is Ship Travel Cheaper Than Flying?

Some people may be surprised to know just how inexpensive ship travel can be. Cruises and yacht travel can be more comparable to flying, but freight travel is the clear winner in most cases regarding cost. 

When you book a trip on a freight ship, you’re accepting the fact that, in exchange for a cheaper cost, you’re choosing a slower and less reliable way of transportation compared to flying.

Ship travel may not be for everyone, but it might be the travel method for you if you can handle the potential drawbacks and are on a budget.

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I've been everywhere, man. Crossed the deserts bare, man. I've breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel, I've had my share, man. I've been everywhere!

On cargo ships, how much of the “per day” price is for food? Some people say that cargo ship travel is more expensive than air, but I don’t think that they have considered food expense separately.

I want to travel one-way to Europe from the east coast this coming spring, how can I do this?

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air travel vs sea travel

Air Transportation vs Sea Transportation: What is Best for Transporting Your Product

When wanting to have your goods transported in Australia, you get confused on which means of transportation to choose. This is because the different means of transport do have their own respective advantages and disadvantages. This means you will have to learn to make your choice wisely so you don’t regret having to choose one medium of transport over the other only to find out that you are losing money.

The Issue for Debate

Among the means of transportation available, the ones that seem to be raising too much topics for debate in recent times seem to be air and sea transportation. People don’t seem to know which one to choose. If you happen to be among such persons, then you will be able to make your choice based on what you will be learning here today.  What you will be learning are the benefits of using air transportation and also that of sea transportation. This will help you make your choice when wanting to employ the services of a freight broker.

Air Transport is Faster

When you want to talk about meeting up with time and getting your goods delivered to their destinations, then air transport is a sure bet as it is the fastest. Sea transport can’t offer you such speed as goods take time to get to their locations.  Your freight broker will help you in this regards by telling you when to expect your goods when you choose air transportation and also when you chose sea transportation. It is the reason why most business persons in Australia choose it as their preferred option.

Sea Transport Can Carry Bulky Goods

When you want to consider the nature of your goods in terms of how bulky they are then sea transportation is the best option for such. If you are the type of business person who transports bulky goods then it is better that you choose this mode.

Air Transportation is Safer

It is very frustrating having to notice that your goods are missing or that they were not delivered in good conditions. This is what sea transportation does expose you to. Air transportation provides you with more safety so long as your goods are concerned. Your freight broker will confirm this one for you as it is a major challenge facing sea transportation.

Sea Transportation is Cheaper

Every one that is doing business in Australia would want to consider this area very well before reaching a decision. Sea transportation will not cost you more as compared to air transport which is mostly considered to be an express means of transport.


Experts Say This Is the Safest Mode of Transportation During COVID-19

By William J. McGee

Car Winding Road Europe United Kingdom England Derby

All products featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on into its fifth month of lockdowns and canceled events, pent-up demand has many wondering about the safest way to travel, among the options that make the most sense now. Condé Nast Traveler consulted medical, travel, and statistical experts to weigh the relative risks when traveling by commercial airlines, Amtrak, and private cars during this pandemic—and they’re largely in agreement on which choices are best.

It's worth noting that these recommendations assume equality between choices. For example, some may not have the time to drive, while others may not have the money to fly, and of course it’s not an option to take a train from California to Hawaii. But for travelers able to choose among the three, the experts can help you decide the transportation method with which you're most comfortable .

To travel or not to travel

First things first: You need to determine who should travel, and if the trip is even necessary. The World Health Organization provides detailed advice on “essential travel” and lists those who should postpone or cancel trips, including older travelers and those with chronic illnesses, underlying health conditions, and confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control’s “ Considerations for Travelers—Coronavirus in the U.S. ” page states: “Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. People at higher risk for severe illness need to take extra precautions.”

“I think we’re still learning a lot about this virus’s ability to transmit infectivity, plus the pre-symptomatic infection spread is daunting,” says Chris Hendel, a long-time medical researcher associated with the USC Gehr Family Center for Health Systems Science and Innovation.

What follows are breakdowns applicable to all three travel modes: air, rail, and highway.

The pros and cons of air travel

Risk of contracting the virus when traveling on airline starts at the airport. The CDC notes on its website that “air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals," which "can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces." Once on board the plane, social distancing could be difficult, depending on the airline's policy. On crowded flights, where you might have to sit within less than six feet for hours, your chances for risk of exposure could go up.

But there’s also good news. “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” according to the CDC. That's because the majority of aircraft in airline fleets have high-grade HEPA filters (high-efficiency particulate air) that can remove up to 99.999 percent of airborne particles. This provides extremely effective, but not perfect, protection against airborne viruses. Close contact between those on board in the aisles or while boarding—especially if some fliers aren't wearing masks—can mean exposure when air passengers exhale and, potentially, to the virus as well.

Compounding these concerns is that the U.S. Department of Transportation has failed to mandate any regulations for commercial air travel nationwide. In July the DOT issued a 44-page set of recommendations for commercial air travel, but since these are only suggestions and not enforceable, the nation’s airports, airlines, and passengers are left with a patchwork of different, and ineffective opt-in rules. In practical terms, this means airline policies on face coverings vary, and in some cases are not enforced. Members of Congress, flight attendant and pilot unions, as well as passenger advocates are calling on the DOT to mandate uniform protocols, and Consumer Reports has launched a petition that has more than 60,000 signatures.

What’s more, among the nation’s four largest airlines, currently two— Delta and Southwest —are blocking middle seats. But the other two— American and United —are not blocking them. Adding to the confusion is the fact that such seating policies also vary among smaller and foreign carriers.

This is particularly important because a recent study by Dr. Arnold Barnett, professor of Statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that on U.S. jet aircraft, “the risk of contracting COVID-19 from a nearby passenger is about 1 in 4,300." On planes with blocked middle seats, "that risk falls to about 1 in 7,700,” the study says. In fact, the coronavirus mortality risks for air travelers are now “considerably higher” than the threat of an airline crash, according to Barnett's study, a rather startling conclusion considering the usual statistical safety of commercial flight.

Birds flying in formation behind train

Trains have some safety advantages over planes.

The pros and cons of train travel

Amtrak offers health advantages that airlines can’t. Many stations are outdoors, there are fewer bottlenecks for check-in, and no security screening. Even so, the CDC does warn that “traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within six feet of others.”

Last week a team of researchers from China and the U.K. published a lengthy analysis of the risk of COVID-19 transmission among train passengers. “Our study shows that although there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission on trains, a person’s seat location and travel time in relation to an infectious person can make a big difference as to whether it is passed on,” wrote the study's lead investigator, Shengjie Lai of the University of Southampton.

In this regard, Amtrak already has an advantage over most commercial aircraft since there are no middle seats on its trains. And a new initiative on Amtrak’s reserved trains is that bookings are limited, so that passengers traveling alone will have an empty adjacent seat. Also, Amtrak—like many airlines—states it has taken measures such as enhanced cleaning and mandatory face coverings for passengers and crew.

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Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, notes that an Amtrak coach changes the air about 12 to 15 times per hour, and supplies 15 pounds of fresh air per minute per passenger; social distancing and masks are critical factors as well. Overall, Mathews is optimistic. “We are reasonably confident Amtrak’s measures will be effective, with the proviso that they are actually followed.”

The pros and cons of car travel

When it comes to driving, the obvious advantage is that you can control who gets into the vehicle with you. But the CDC warns there could be other unforeseen risks. “Making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and surfaces,” the agency notes. That said, your own car can provide much more protection than public forms of transportation, assuming you are traveling with family members or others who have been screened or vetted.

But what if it’s not your car? In the case of rental vehicles, major firms such as Avis , Enterprise , and Hertz have all pledged enhanced cleaning and social distancing upon check-in. Enterprise details 21 separate automotive parts that are sanitized, from mirrors to cupholders.

Which form of transportation is the safest way to travel?

Barnett, the MIT professor, expanded his analysis of airline empty middle seats by formulating a statistical study on traveling by car, exclusively for Traveler . “Assuming that the driver and passengers do not have COVID-19, the [highest] mortality risk of a 1,000 mile trip would arise from auto accidents," he says. "Assuming that those who would fly are relatively safe drivers, an estimate of the risk tied to U.S. auto deaths per billion miles driven in 2018 would be about one in three million. That is lower than the COVID-related death risk associated with a 1,000 mile flight, which I estimate as 1 death per 600,000 passengers if the plane is 2/3 full. The huge safety advantage of flying 1,000 miles nonstop rather than driving, pre-COVID, has disappeared as of August 2020.”

USC’s Hendel agrees. “If you have to—and can afford it—I think traveling by car is the safest option right now, in part because you’re not traveling with another person whose risk of infection may be unknown," he says. "Essentially you aren’t sharing the breathing space with someone who could be infected. But of course, one needs to be very cautious about stopping while traveling by car. I think train travel might possibly have an edge over air travel. Regardless, everyone should be wearing a mask on the train or in the plane.”

And Dr. Karl Neumann, a pediatric travel expert and founder of the site is blunt in assessing the risks for children. “Amtrak is better than air travel, but car travel is much better than airlines and trains,” he says. “The most important [protections] are proper spacing and masks.”

Other tips to consider

  • If you’re traveling on any form of public transportation, the earliest departures of the day are best, since airplanes, trains, and buses are more likely to be heavily disinfected overnight.
  • Carry extra masks/face coverings, gloves, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol).
  • On an airplane or train, wipe down your immediate area, including armrests, seat backs, tray tables, seatbelts, air vents, window shades, light controls, etc.
  • In a rental car, wipe down “touch points” such as steering wheel, gear shift, door/window/seat handles and controls, seatbelts, mirrors, radio and control knobs, visors, etc.

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Motorised transport: train, plane, road or boat — which is greenest.

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Traveling by plane, train or automobile: the most environmentally sound choice may not always be clear. The latest annual Transport and Environment Report 2020 (TERM)  addresses the issue assessing the value of travel by train and plane, amid efforts to put in place the European Union’s green deal. The European Green Deal includes the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emission from transport by 90% by 2050 compared with 1990. Shifting to more sustainable transport can make an important contribution to reaching this objective. For passenger transport, a shift from air to rail travel can play a key role, the report says.

Environmental impact of train s and planes

Transport accounted for 25 % of EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. This sector’s emissions come primarily from road transport (72 %), while marine transport and aviation represent shares of 14 % and 13 % of emissions, respectively, and rail a share of 0.4% (emissions by diesel trains only). Apart from their direct contribution to global warming and air pollution, emissions that take place during the production, transmission and distribution of energy used by trains and aircraft are also considered. Transport also causes non-exhaust emissions of air pollutants, for example from the abrasion of brakes, wheels and tyres or railway tracks.

Train or plane?

The report specifically looks into the impacts of rail and air travel, both of which are a big  part of Europe’s passenger transport sector. The assessment concludes that rail travel is the best and most sensible mode of travel, apart from walking or cycling.  Aviation’s emission impacts are much higher on a passenger-kilometre basis. But the report notes that flying is not necessarily the most harmful choice. Travel by a petrol or diesel-powered car, especially if traveling alone, can be more harmful.  

The report notes however, that over longer distances, the environmental costs of travelling by air increase less because the environmental costs of landing and take-off do not change with distance on a direct flight. The assessment is based on a comparison of travel between 20 city pairs across Europe.

A separate EEA briefing , based on a study commissioned by the EEA also published today, says both rail and shipping are the least carbon-intensive choices for motorised transport. Rail and waterborne transport have the lowest emissions per kilometre and unit transported, while aviation and road transport emit significantly more.

While the efficiency of rail and aviation improved markedly during the 5-year period covered by the study, the efficiency of other modes appears to have stagnated. Shifting to rail and waterborne transport should be encouraged while at the same time improving the greenhouse gas efficiency of all motorised forms of transport, the briefing says.

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Why Air Travel is The Safest Mode of Transportation?

Is flying that safe? Any certified aircraft dispatcher who has been through rigorous aircraft dispatcher training and tests will tell you, yes, it most certainly is. And here’s why.

Flying is the safest way to travel; that’s a platitude that almost everyone is familiar with. In the 1990’s, when air travel was becoming increasingly common, even more so than it had ever been, this idea that air travel is safe spread more and more. It was likely an idea that spread because more first-time fliers found themselves slightly panicking, so they needed a way to ensure that they are safer than in car on the road.

infographic on why air travel is the safest

There are divisions that make up every successful flight that you have ever taken. Flight crew, air traffic control, and aircraft dispatchers.

Each department relies on and monitors the other. Aircraft dispatchers are often called the 4 th flight crew member (after the pilot, first officer, and navigator). Aircraft dispatchers and pilots share an equal amount of responsibility for the safety of every flight.

For example, changing course or altitude must go through all three departments so mistakes are found and adjustments can be made before they happen.

Training and Certifications

Did you have a tough time getting your driver’s license? It was nowhere near as difficult as it is to receive a pilot’s license or go through aircraft dispatcher training.

Aircraft dispatcher training may be short, but it is vigorous, and the tests taken to become a certified aircraft dispatcher are by no means easy.

There’s no short cut for experience. It’s one thing to complete aircraft dispatcher training and become a certified aircraft dispatcher , but it takes years to land a job at a major airline.

Pilots must have 1,500 flying hours before they are eligible to work as a first officer on a commercial airline.

Aviation technology is advancing to incredible levels. The latest Airbus and Boeing models are built with so many safety features, it would put any Volvo or Toyota to shame.

The technology on your average flight is monitoring everything that’s happening on the plane, everything that’s happening around the plane, and everything that’s happening in all other 50 dimensions in time and space.

Airline Authorities and Regulations

Imagine having a machine monitor and record all your driving, which was then reviewed by a traffic officer once you’ve reached your destination. Be honest, you would probably have at least three or four tickets by the end of the week.

Pilots, air traffic controllers, and aircraft dispatchers are all monitored and reviewed. And believe us, the Federal Aviation Association is no slouch. They will lay down the law for anything not done according to regulations and training.

Certified aircraft dispatchers are also inundated with rules and regulations. It’s what we do, it’s what we love, and it’s what makes the skies a lot safer.

Though flight fear still exists, it is almost completely unfounded. Accidents tend to be highlighted by the media, blowing them out of proportion.

Air travel resulted in 0.07 deaths for every 1 billion miles travelled compared to 212.57 for motorcycles and 7.28 for cars. We will continue to make the skies safer and you continue to fly!

Why Airplanes Are Safer Than Cars?

Airplanes are safer than cars for a variety of reasons. For one, there is a much greater concentration of cars on most highways and roads, which means that there is a much greater chance of accidents and collisions happening due to the number of cars driving close to each other. On the other hand, there is much less concentration of airplanes in the air at any given time. This means that the chance of an in-air collision is much lower. 

Aside from having a much lesser chance of colliding with another airplane, pilots have much greater regulations and licensing requirements than someone who drives a car. As mentioned above, the average person who drives a car will not have the same checks and balances, training, technology, and regulations as someone who is a pilot. How safe is flying? The answer could be derived from the number of regulations and training that the average airline worker will need to go through, from pilots to aircraft dispatchers who have to go to aircraft dispatcher schools. 

Why Is the Airplane the Safest Mode of Transportation? 

Aside from the number of checks and balances and regulations that airlines and those that work on them need to abide by, airplanes are a marvel of modern technology and engineering. Commercial airplanes have to abide by strict safety standards regardless of the ticket class that the passengers are sitting in. As technology in the industry has advanced to have passenger safety as a principal consideration, airplane seats can withstand 16 times gravity’s force. These seats are also fireproof and do not emit toxic fumes if they were to catch on fire. So, passengers sitting in even the cheapest seats could rest assured knowing that the seats that they own are the safest in the industry. 

Why Is Air Safer Than Car Travel?

Air travel is safer than car travel because airplanes have to go through stricter regulations and checks and balances than cars do. In other words, driving a car requires much less effort and training than flying a plane does. There are many more regulations and training requirements for flying airplanes than are required to fly a car. The aviation industry is governed by a multitude of rigorous safety regulations enforced by aviation authorities worldwide. These regulations cover everything from aircraft maintenance to pilot training, ensuring that all aspects of air travel adhere to the highest safety standards. Another reason why air travel is safer than car travel is that aircrafts are equipped with multiple backup systems and state-of-the-art technology to mitigate the impact of any failures. Flight dispatchers play a crucial role in ensuring flights are routed around adverse weather and potential hazards.

What Is the Safest Way to Travel in America?

In America, the safest way to travel is by airplane. As an expert in person and online dispatcher school , I can emphasize that air travel boasts an unparalleled safety record. The governing body for all aviation in the United States is the FAA. The aviation industry is subject to a multitude of strict regulations by this body. These regulations cover every aspect of air travel, from aircraft maintenance to pilot training, ensuring the highest safety standards are consistently upheld. To illustrate, the FAA establishes rigorous safety standards that apply to every facet of aviation. These standards encompass aircraft design, maintenance procedures, pilot certification, air traffic control protocols, and more. Compliance with these standards is mandatory for all entities involved in air travel. This governing body is also responsible for overseeing the nation’s air traffic control system. It sets guidelines for air traffic controllers who are trained to ensure the safe and orderly flow of air traffic. This includes managing takeoffs, landings, and in-flight routing. Flight dispatcher jobs ensure that the aviation industry continues to be safe and effective for everyone. 

Why is Flying So Much Safer for International Travel?

When traveling internationally, there is no better form of transportation than air travel. The aviation industry adheres to rigorous global standards set by organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These standards encompass everything from aircraft design and maintenance to pilot training and air traffic control procedures, ensuring uniform safety practices worldwide. Air travel operates on well-defined, standardized procedures that minimize the potential for human error. From takeoff to landing, these procedures contribute to a safe and predictable aviation environment. This is much different than automobile traffic going into and out of a country. Lastly, international flights are prepared to navigate through diverse weather conditions. What’s more, international flight dispatchers closely monitor and plan routes around adverse weather, minimizing disruptions and ensuring passenger safety. 

What Is the Safest Small Airplane? 

If you are asking yourself “how safe is flying?”, you may be wondering if non-commercial airplanes are as safe as their commercial counterparts. Commercial airplanes are much more developed than other aircrafts, but smaller airplanes are also extremely safe. The safest single-engine airplanes are the following: 

  • Piper Cherokee
  • Diamond DA40

What Is the Safest Mode of Transportation? 

After reading the preceding information in this article, it is obvious that air travel is the safest mode of transportation. Our aircraft dispatcher training center would like to point out that all of the professionals surrounding the industry are highly trained and happy to be part of this industry.

More About Sheffield School of Aeronautics

Sheffield School of Aeronautics is an in-person and online aircraft dispatcher training school that is ready to train the next generation of air travel professionals. Specifically, we train prospective aircraft dispatchers for their future careers. Aside from answering questions like “how safe is flying?”, our aircraft dispatcher school offers the following courses: 

  • 5-week courses
  • 3-week courses
  • 2-week courses
  • Recurrent training 
  • ETOPS training
  • And much more

Contact us today to learn more about what we could offer you today. 

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What Travel Looked Like Through the Decades

air travel vs sea travel

Getting from point A to point B has not always been as easy as online booking, Global Entry , and Uber. It was a surprisingly recent event when the average American traded in the old horse-and-carriage look for a car, plane, or even private jet .

What was it like to travel at the turn of the century? If you were heading out for a trans-Atlantic trip at the very beginning of the 20th century, there was one option: boat. Travelers planning a cross-country trip had something akin to options: carriage, car (for those who could afford one), rail, or electric trolley lines — especially as people moved from rural areas to cities.

At the beginning of the 1900s, leisure travel in general was something experienced exclusively by the wealthy and elite population. In the early-to-mid-20th century, trains were steadily a popular way to get around, as were cars. The debut regional airlines welcomed their first passengers in the 1920s, but the airline business didn't see its boom until several decades later. During the '50s, a huge portion of the American population purchased a set of wheels, giving them the opportunity to hit the open road and live the American dream.

Come 1960, airports had expanded globally to provide both international and domestic flights to passengers. Air travel became a luxury industry, and a transcontinental trip soon became nothing but a short journey.

So, what's next? The leisure travel industry has quite a legacy to fulfill — fancy a trip up to Mars , anyone? Here, we've outlined how travel (and specifically, transportation) has evolved over every decade of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The 1900s was all about that horse-and-carriage travel life. Horse-drawn carriages were the most popular mode of transport, as it was before cars came onto the scene. In fact, roadways were not plentiful in the 1900s, so most travelers would follow the waterways (primarily rivers) to reach their destinations. The 1900s is the last decade before the canals, roads, and railway plans really took hold in the U.S., and as such, it represents a much slower and antiquated form of travel than the traditions we associate with the rest of the 20th century.

Cross-continental travel became more prevalent in the 1910s as ocean liners surged in popularity. In the '10s, sailing via steam ship was the only way to get to Europe. The most famous ocean liner of this decade, of course, was the Titanic. The largest ship in service at the time of its 1912 sailing, the Titanic departed Southampton, England on April 10 (for its maiden voyage) and was due to arrive in New York City on April 17. At 11:40 p.m. on the evening of April 14, it collided with an iceberg and sank beneath the North Atlantic three hours later. Still, when the Titanic was constructed, it was the largest human-made moving object on the planet and the pinnacle of '10s travel.

The roaring '20s really opened our eyes up to the romance and excitement of travel. Railroads in the U.S. were expanded in World War II, and travelers were encouraged to hop on the train to visit out-of-state resorts. It was also a decade of prosperity and economic growth, and the first time middle-class families could afford one of the most crucial travel luxuries: a car. In Europe, luxury trains were having a '20s moment coming off the design glamour of La Belle Epoque, even though high-end train travel dates back to the mid-1800s when George Pullman introduced the concept of private train cars.

Finally, ocean liners bounced back after the challenges of 1912 with such popularity that the Suez Canal had to be expanded. Most notably, travelers would cruise to destinations like Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Cue "Jet Airliner" because we've made it to the '30s, which is when planes showed up on the mainstream travel scene. While the airplane was invented in 1903 by the Wright brothers, and commercial air travel was possible in the '20s, flying was quite a cramped, turbulent experience, and reserved only for the richest members of society. Flying in the 1930s (while still only for elite, business travelers) was slightly more comfortable. Flight cabins got bigger — and seats were plush, sometimes resembling living room furniture.

In 1935, the invention of the Douglas DC-3 changed the game — it was a commercial airliner that was larger, more comfortable, and faster than anything travelers had seen previously. Use of the Douglas DC-3 was picked up by Delta, TWA, American, and United. The '30s was also the first decade that saw trans-Atlantic flights. Pan American Airways led the charge on flying passengers across the Atlantic, beginning commercial flights across the pond in 1939.

1940s & 1950s

Road trip heyday was in full swing in the '40s, as cars got better and better. From convertibles to well-made family station wagons, cars were getting bigger, higher-tech, and more luxurious. Increased comfort in the car allowed for longer road trips, so it was only fitting that the 1950s brought a major expansion in U.S. highway opportunities.

The 1950s brought the Interstate system, introduced by President Eisenhower. Prior to the origination of the "I" routes, road trippers could take only the Lincoln Highway across the country (it ran all the way from NYC to San Francisco). But the Lincoln Highway wasn't exactly a smooth ride — parts of it were unpaved — and that's one of the reasons the Interstate system came to be. President Eisenhower felt great pressure from his constituents to improve the roadways, and he obliged in the '50s, paving the way for smoother road trips and commutes.

The '60s is the Concorde plane era. Enthusiasm for supersonic flight surged in the '60s when France and Britain banded together and announced that they would attempt to make the first supersonic aircraft, which they called Concorde. The Concorde was iconic because of what it represented, forging a path into the future of aviation with supersonic capabilities. France and Britain began building a supersonic jetliner in 1962, it was presented to the public in 1967, and it took its maiden voyage in 1969. However, because of noise complaints from the public, enthusiasm for the Concorde was quickly curbed. Only 20 were made, and only 14 were used for commercial airline purposes on Air France and British Airways. While they were retired in 2003, there is still fervent interest in supersonic jets nearly 20 years later.

Amtrak incorporated in 1971 and much of this decade was spent solidifying its brand and its place within American travel. Amtrak initially serviced 43 states (and Washington D.C.) with 21 routes. In the early '70s, Amtrak established railway stations and expanded to Canada. The Amtrak was meant to dissuade car usage, especially when commuting. But it wasn't until 1975, when Amtrak introduced a fleet of Pullman-Standard Company Superliner cars, that it was regarded as a long-distance travel option. The 235 new cars — which cost $313 million — featured overnight cabins, and dining and lounge cars.

The '80s are when long-distance travel via flight unequivocally became the norm. While the '60s and '70s saw the friendly skies become mainstream, to a certain extent, there was still a portion of the population that saw it as a risk or a luxury to be a high-flyer. Jetsetting became commonplace later than you might think, but by the '80s, it was the long-haul go-to mode of transportation.

1990s & 2000s

Plans for getting hybrid vehicles on the road began to take shape in the '90s. The Toyota Prius (a gas-electric hybrid) was introduced to the streets of Japan in 1997 and took hold outside Japan in 2001. Toyota had sold 1 million Priuses around the world by 2007. The hybrid trend that we saw from '97 to '07 paved the way for the success of Teslas, chargeable BMWs, and the electric car adoption we've now seen around the world. It's been impactful not only for the road trippers but for the average American commuter.

If we're still cueing songs up here, let's go ahead and throw on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," because the 2010s are when air travel became positively over-the-top. Qatar Airways rolled out their lavish Qsuites in 2017. Business class-only airlines like La Compagnie (founded in 2013) showed up on the scene. The '10s taught the luxury traveler that private jets weren't the only way to fly in exceptional style.

Of course, we can't really say what the 2020 transportation fixation will be — but the stage has certainly been set for this to be the decade of commercial space travel. With Elon Musk building an elaborate SpaceX rocket ship and making big plans to venture to Mars, and of course, the world's first space hotel set to open in 2027 , it certainly seems like commercialized space travel is where we're headed next.

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Out to Sea and Overseas: AAA Travel’s Spring Break Trends

Cruises and international trips on the rise; florida tops list of domestic destinations.

air travel vs sea travel

WASHINGTON, DC (Feb. 26, 2024) – If there’s one place that defines Spring Break, it’s Florida! AAA Travel booking data shows the Sunshine State tops the list of Spring Break destinations this year. Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches, family-friendly attractions, and cruise ports make Florida a logical choice for travelers seeking fun in the sun.

“Orlando is the top choice for Spring Break travelers, while Fort Lauderdale and Miami are the two most popular domestic cruise ports,” said Paula Twidale, Senior Vice President of AAA Travel. “Many travelers are looking for warm weather, pools and beaches, and outdoor adventures this time of year, and cruise vacations check all those boxes.”

Cruising is off to a splashy start in 2024 with sold-out ships and inaugural sailings, and that strong demand is evident in Spring Break bookings. AAA Travel data shows a 28% increase in cruise bookings for March and April compared to last year, and a 60% percent increase for cruises departing from South Florida.

Good to Know: More travelers are booking cruises farther in advance, which is one of AAA Travel’s cruising trends this year. Many Spring Break cruises have been sold-out for months. Last-minute bookings are possible, but prices may be higher and cabin choices limited. If you miss the boat for Spring Break, AAA Travel suggests booking a summer cruise now before they sell out, especially if you’re eyeing popular destinations like Alaska.

AAA Trip Canvas Tips: For families traveling with teens, check out the best cruise lines for teenagers. 

  • Best for Onboard Activities:  ROYAL CARIBBEAN
  • Best for Teen Clubs: CARNIVAL
  • Best for Families with Kids of Different Ages: DISNEY CRUISE LINE
  • Best for Recreational Tournaments: PRINCESS CRUISES
  • Best for Entertainment Options: HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
  • Best For Family Accommodations: CELEBRITY CRUISES

International Spring Break trips are also on the rise compared to last year. AAA data for March and April shows international flight bookings are up 20% and hotel bookings are up 37%.  European cities top the list of most popular destinations: London, Paris, Rome, Dublin, and Amsterdam. “More AAA members are also booking tours for their international Spring Break vacations. They want the convenience, expertise, and peace of mind that guided travel brings.”

Good to Know : Planning ahead is key when traveling internationally, and that includes reserving airport parking well in advance. For peace of mind during your trip, The Parking Spot provides a well-lit, fenced-in parking area with 24-hour staff on premises. As a bonus, select locations offer EV charging and car washes, so you return home to a clean car! The earlier you reserve at The Parking Spot, the more you save, and AAA members receive a discount.

If you plan to drive at your destination, don’t forget to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before your trip. An IDP is a document that translates a valid U.S. driver’s license into several different languages. Most countries highly recommend an IDP and several countries require it. AAA is the only entity in the U.S. authorized by the State Department to issue an IDP.

AAA Trip Canvas Tips: For travelers who want to visit popular European cities but can’t decide on which one, check out these tours that cover multiple destinations. 

  • Treasures of Europe
  • London and Paris
  • Italian Vistas
  • Netherlands, Belgium, and France
  • Best of Ireland and Scotland

Browse more cruises and find travel inspiration on Trip Canvas , AAA’s free travel-planning tool. 

Started in 1902 by automotive enthusiasts who wanted to chart a path for better roads in America and advocate for safe mobility, AAA has transformed into one of North America’s largest membership organizations. Today, AAA provides roadside assistance, travel, discounts, financial and insurance services to enhance the life journey of 64 million members across North America, including 57 million in the United States. To learn more about all AAA has to offer or to become a member, visit

Air travel may be about to get better. Here's what it means for your next flight.

Your next flight may get an upgrade.

No, not as in a bigger seat in the front of the cabin. It's bigger than that -- much bigger.

Air travel in the United States could soon improve dramatically. Here's how:

  • New federal protections for air travelers. The U.S. Senate passed new rules that require better fee disclosure, free family seating, and new ticket refund rights. It also proposed appointing a new Assistant Secretary to handle airline service problems. 
  • Better seats. Southwest has announced ambitious plans to overhaul its cabin interiors. It joins other carriers, including Japan Airlines, LOT, and Swiss in rolling out new and more comfortable seats. 
  • Upgraded airline performance. Air carriers have canceled fewer flights lately. For the first 11 months of last year, domestic airlines canceled only 1.4 percent of flights, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). That's way below the 2.5 percent cancellation rate for the first 11 months of 2022 and significantly better than the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.

Check out   Elliott Confidential , the newsletter the travel industry doesn't want you to read. Each issue is filled with breaking news, deep insights, and exclusive strategies for becoming a better traveler. But don't tell anyone!

"There's a sense of optimism for the future of U.S. air travel," said Duncan Greenfield-Turk, the chief travel designer for Global Travel Moments , "The airline industry has an opportunity to rebuild and reimagine air travel, potentially ushering in a new golden age marked by superior service, innovation, and passenger satisfaction."

Passengers want to get off the plane first. Here's how you can do it.

Me first! How passengers are cheating their way onto the plane faster

Is it time to start celebrating a new golden age of air travel? 

Hang on, hang on. We're not there yet. 

In fact, economy class passengers are still pretty unhappy with their travel experience, according to the latest J. D. Power North American Airline Satisfaction Study . In categories such as ease of travel, onboard experience, and trust, the airlines scored lower than they did last year. 

"We’re seeing signs of weakening consumer satisfaction," said Mike Taylor, J.D. Power's managing director for travel and hospitality.

The silver lining: Amid declining fares, passengers say they got more value for their money when they flew compared to 2022. 

Hey, it's a start.

But passengers say change is in the air. Alex Beene, a community coordinator from Nashville and a frequent air traveler, said his last few flights were on time and went smoothly. And he hardly had to wait at the TSA screening area.

"I've never felt as good about air travel as I have the last few months," he told me.

He's not alone. I've spoken with many air travelers who share his sense of optimism. It feels like for the first time in years, the stars are aligning for airline passengers. 

But are they really?

This golden age could be a fake-out

Reality check: This new golden age could turn out to be fool's gold.

The new luggage fees announced last week felt like a splash of cold water on all that optimism. This year, four domestic airlines have raised their checked baggage fees. United Airlines is the latest to announce an increase. You'll pay $40 for your first checked bag, or $35 if you pay online at least 24 hours before your flight. That's an increase of $5.

And the new Senate provisions for air travel , while positive, still have to be reconciled with the House version of the FAA Reauthorization bill this spring. That probably means some of the more pro-consumer provisions will get stricken by the airline-friendly Congress. 

How about those new airline seats? Generally, new aircraft interiors improve the flying experience. But Southwest's new interior design , which debuts next year, has been a little controversial. Critics have hammered its new seats for looking too thin and uncomfortable. One popular TikToker called them "lawn chairs." 

That may be unfair. True, the seats cut a slender profile, but they are the result of "careful and extensive" research, according to the airline. Also, none of the critics have sat in one of the seats yet, so there's that.

What about the airline industry's performance? Yes, it's impressive, and the government wastes no opportunity to take full credit for it. But it will only last until the next computer outage or bad weather plunges an airline hub into total chaos.

"Let me be blunt," said Bill McGee, a senior fellow for Aviation at the American Economic Liberties Project . "The airline industry is still broken."

Here's how to protect yourself: Hackers are coming for your travel accounts

Hotel parking fees are out of control. Here's how to fight them.

How to have a better flight anyway

Golden age or not, there's only one thing that really matters: How is your next flight? None of the trends and statistics really matter if an airline cancels your flight and leaves you sleeping on the airport floor. Here's how to sidestep bad service:

  • Book a ticket on an airline that offers excellent service. There's a reason airlines like Delta, Southwest and Alaska keep winning customer service awards. If you cheap out and buy a ticket on a discount airline, you will get what you pay for. No golden age for you!
  • Avoid chaos. Try to avoid weekends and especially the days before and after major holidays. And always try to book the first flight of the day so that if something goes wrong, you won't be stranded at an airport waiting for a connection. If you have to fly on a busy holiday, pack your patience and a good travel insurance policy.
  • Know your rights . Whether Congress passes new laws or not, you still need to know your rights as an air traveler. (Yes, you have some.) For domestic flights, the DOT's Fly Rights page is an excellent resource. You can fly during a difficult time and still get decent service if you know your rights and can advocate for yourself if service goes south.

But perhaps the best advice of all is to keep your expectations modest. No one is turning the clock back to the 1960s, when even the economy class seats had plenty of legroom and the service was stellar. In a deregulated, post-pandemic airline industry, take nothing for granted – and focus on the basics.

"The greatest service of all," said MIT management professor Arnold Barnett, "is getting you to your destination safely."

Christopher Elliott  is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded  Elliott Advocacy , a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes  Elliott Confidential , a travel newsletter, and the  Elliott Report , a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can  reach him here  or email him at  [email protected] .

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What Is Greener? Flying vs. Driving

Olivia Young is a writer, fact checker, and green living expert passionate about tiny living, climate advocacy, and all things nature. She holds a degree in Journalism from Ohio University.

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The Environmental Protection Agency's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, a 2019 report spanning almost three decades, revealed that transportation—flying, driving, rail, commercial shipping, etc.—is responsible for a larger share of domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than any other economic sector. It also experienced the greatest increase in emissions between 1990 and 2018, "due in large part to increased demand for travel," the report says.

Transportation alone generates nearly three times the GHG emissions of agriculture , and four times the amount produced by household and commercial properties in the United States. Both cars and planes have been blamed for accelerating climate change—but which is the worst offender? Experts say planes wreak planetary havoc due to their altitude, but are they more fuel-efficient, considering the vast number of passengers able to fit on a Boeing 737?

Learn more about the environmental effects of flying versus driving and which is the  greenest way to travel  for your next vacation.

Car Pollution

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The World Health Organization estimates that 4.2 million people worldwide die from ambient air pollution every year. In the U.S. alone, more than 40% of the population live in areas plagued by poor air quality, and cars are one of the top polluters.  

Passenger vehicles produce several types of pollution : carbon monoxide, when carbon from fuel doesn't burn completely; hydrocarbons, a toxic combination of hydrogen and carbon emitted from car exhausts; nitrogen oxides, formed when nitrogen and oxygen react; and soot known as particulate matter, or PM. 

Cities are getting considerably smoggier because people are statistically driving more. According to the EPA's  Greenhouse Gas Equivalent Calculator , driving a car 11,556 miles per year is equivalent, in GHG emissions, to powering a house for nine months, burning through 188 propane grill tanks, or charging a cell phone nearly 600,000 times. But the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration says people are actually driving even more than the EPA's estimate. In fact, they're driving more miles per year—about 13,476—than ever before in American history.  

The 2021 EPA report revealed that passenger cars and light-duty trucks (including SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans) together produce 57.7% of all transportation-related GHG emissions, more than eight times the emissions generated by commercial aircraft. On a positive note, automotive technology is only getting greener: new passenger vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, and buses are reportedly around 99% cleaner than 1970 models.

Cleaning Up Car Standards

The shift to cleaner cars is partially a result of emissions standards laid out by the EPA over the past 50 years. Whereas the toxic metal lead was once blended with fuel to boost octane levels, leaded gasoline is now prohibited—and has been for 25 years.

Today, about 2% of new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. run on electric rather than fuel. The Environmental Defense Fund is now pushing for all new passenger vehicles sold by 2035 to be zero-emitting. According to its 2021 Clean Cars, Clean Air, Consumer Savings report, the organization's proposed pollution safeguards would reduce annual climate pollution by 600 million metric tons—the equivalent of  130,000,000 internal combustion engine vehicles  (ICEVs) on the road for one year—and would prevent as many as 5,000 premature deaths annually by 2040.

Problems With Electric Cars

It's important to note that while electric vehicles (EVs) create almost no running emissions, the manufacturing process for most counteracts the benefits of fuel absence. EVs contain lithium-ion batteries, traction motors, and electronic controllers whose production creates up to 60% more carbon dioxide emissions than the production of ICEVs, according to a 2017 study comparing the life cycle of conventional and electric vehicles in China.

In order to determine whether an EV or ICEV is greener, one must weigh the GHG emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle. Experts maintain that EVs offer a greener future, because manufacturing is becoming more widespread (as opposed to being mostly limited to China) and because battery recycling will in time become more efficient, leading to a reduced need for new material extraction. However, the EVs of today are not a perfect solution.

Airplane Pollution

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Although passenger cars currently account for the largest portion of transportation-related GHG emissions, air travel is one of the fastest-growing polluters. As of 2018, aircraft were responsible for 9% of U.S. transportation sector GHG emissions and 2.4% of total carbon dioxide emissions globally. The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) predicts global emissions from aircraft will triple by 2050, and estimates from  another  study by the International Council on Clean Transportation overshoot the UN's predictions by 150%.

The carbon dioxide emitted from one round-trip flight from New York to London totals about 1,414 pounds per passenger, according to  ICAO's Carbon Emissions Calculator —that's more than the average citizen of Kenya (and more than 30 other countries) emits over a full year. What's worse, CO2 is only half the problem.

Like cars, planes emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when they burn fuel. But unlike cars, planes also leave behind those wispy ice trails—called contrail clouds—that are even more polluting than the CO2 they produce, according to a study on global radiative forcing.

The word "contrails" is a compound of "condensation" and "trails," they occur when exhaust gases mix with low-temperature, high-humidity air. Contrails are damaging not just because they block sunlight, but also because they trap heat coming up from the ground, ultimately creating a warming effect below. This kind of anthropogenic warming is called radiative forcing.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Today, alternative fuels that are similar in chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel, but made from waste and excess raw materials instead, are becoming more commonplace. According to SkyNRG, a sustainable aviation fuel global market leader, this cleaner concoction can be blended with traditional jet fuel and requires "no special infrastructure or equipment changes."

San Francisco International Airport has already  started delivering sustainable aviation fuel  through a pipeline;  American ,  JetBlue , and  Alaska Airlines  are some of the industry players that have committed to using it. SkyNRG says this new fuel could reduce CO2 emissions by at least 80%.

Altitude Changes

New research suggests that because contrail clouds form only in very low temperatures, reducing the altitude of flights even slightly could dramatically minimize contrail climate forcing. 

One Imperial College of London study found that just 2% of flights in Japan's airspace were responsible for 80% of that space's radiative forcing. The same study estimated that if even 1.7% of flights reduced their altitude by 2,000 feet—which is a normal amount of variation from the flight path anyway—the climate impact of contrails could be cut by 59%.

Which Is Greener?

Maskot / Getty Images

Because cars and aircraft impact the environment in different ways, there are several factors to consider when weighing which mode of transportation is greener. Firstly, emissions must be broken down into per-mile, per-person estimates, which can be done using the  EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalent Calculator  for vehicles and the  ICAO's Carbon Emissions Calculator  for planes. Whereas the average passenger vehicle fits five to eight, a passenger jet can fit up to 220.

Keep in mind that the ICAO calculator only measures carbon dioxide emissions and not the impact of contrail radiative forcing. It's this non-CO2 greenhouse gas that usually tips the scale in favor of driving. For instance, according to 2019 data from the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a domestic flight will emit about 22% less carbon dioxide per person, per mile than a diesel car with one passenger. But, when you also factor in contrail clouds, a domestic flight generates 49% more emissions overall.  

You must also consider the length of the trip. A 2014 University of San Francisco study revealed that emissions from aviation's landing and takeoff cycle alone can represent up to 70% of an airport's total emissions inventory. Because cruising altitude is gentler on fuel, long-haul flights are actually more efficient than short trips, and direct flights are much better for the environment than connecting flights.

There is no hard and fast rule when deciphering the "greenness" of flying vs. driving. While flying could be better for long-distance travel, short road trips shared between several people may result in lower per capita emissions. 

To further reduce your carbon footprint while traveling , the  Center for Climate and Energy Solutions  suggests driving an electric vehicle rather than one that runs on gasoline, cruising at a steady pace instead of regular breaking and accelerating to avoid fuel waste, taking public transportation whenever possible, packing light, and always choosing direct flights. 

" Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2019 ." Environmental Protection Agency , 2021.

Burkhardt, Ulrike, and Bernd Kärcher. " Global Radiative Forcing From Contrail Cirrus ." Nature Climate Change , vol. 1, no. 1, 2011, pp. 54-58., doi:10.1038/nclimate1068

" Air Pollution ." World Health Organization.

" State of the Air ." American Lung Association , 2021, p. 11.

" Average Annual Miles per Driver by Age Group ." United States Department Of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration , 2018.

" History of Reducing Air Pollution From Transportation in the United States ." Environmental Protection Agency.

" Global EV Outlook 2021 ." International Energy Agency .

" Clean Cars, Clean Air, Consumer Savings ." Environmental Defense Fund , 2021.

Qiao, Qinyu, et al. " Comparative Study on Life Cycle CO2 Emissions From the Production of Electric and Conventional Vehicles in China ." Energy Procedia , vol. 105, 2017, pp. 3584-3595., doi:10.1016/j.egypro.2017.03.827

Graver, Brandon, et al. " CO2 Emissions From Commercial Aviation, 2018 ." The International Council on Clean Transportation , 2019.

" Fast Facts: U.S. Transportation Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990–2018 ." Environmental Protection Agency , 2020.

" Fossil CO2 and GHG Emissions of all World Countries ." Joint Research Centre , 2019.

" Sustainable Aviation Fuel ." SkyNRG .

Teoh, Roger, et al. " Mitigating the Climate Forcing of Aircraft Contrails by Small-Scale Diversions and Technology Adoption ." Environmental Science & Technology , vol. 54, no. 5, 2020, pp. 2941-2950., doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b05608

" Greenhouse Gas Reporting: Conversion Factors 2019 ." U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy , 2019.

Norton, Travis M. " Aircraft Greenhouse Gas Emissions During the Landing and Takeoff Cycle at Bay Area Airports ." The University Of San Francisco , 2014, p. 11.

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‘Worse Than Anyone Expected’: Air Travel Emissions Vastly Outpace Predictions

The findings put pressure on airline regulators to take stronger action to fight climate change as they prepare for a summit next week.

air travel vs sea travel

By Hiroko Tabuchi

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Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial air travel are growing at a faster clip than predicted in previous, already dire, projections , according to new research — putting pressure on airline regulators to take stronger action as they prepare for a summit next week.

The United Nations aviation body forecasts that airplane emissions of carbon dioxide , a major greenhouse gas, will reach just over 900 million metric tons in 2018, and then triple by 2050.

But the new research, from the International Council on Clean Transportation , found that emissions from global air travel may be increasing more than 1.5 times as fast as the U.N. estimate. The researchers analyzed nearly 40 million flights around the world last year.

“Airlines, for all intents and purposes, are becoming more fuel efficient. But we’re seeing demand outstrip any of that,” said Brandon Graver , who led the new study. “The climate challenge for aviation is worse than anyone expected.”

Airlines in recent years have invested in lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, and have explored powering their planes with biofuel.

Over all, air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions — a far smaller share than emissions from passenger cars or power plants. Still, one study found that the rapid growth in plane emissions could mean that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s “carbon budget ,” or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The decision by Greta Thunberg, a young climate activist, to sail across the Atlantic rather than travel by air ahead of her speech at the United Nations next week, has refocused attention on aviation’s role in causing climate change and its consequences, including sea-level rise and more intense heat waves, hurricanes, flooding and drought.

Climate protesters have said they plan to gather in Montreal next week, where airline regulators are set to hold their own summit.

William Raillant-Clark , a spokesman for the U.N. aviation body, stood by its emissions projection , which he said was “the most up-to-date” and provided “a clear picture on the future environmental trends.” He added that the group “endorses and welcomes wholeheartedly” calls for the aviation industry to address climate change with greater urgency.

Underlying the growth in aviation emissions is the rapid expansion of air travel worldwide, propelled by a proliferation of low-cost airlines and a booming tourism industry catering to a growing middle class.

A separate study released this week by the industry group Airports Council International found that the world’s fastest-growing airports were in emerging economies; 12 of the top 30 were in either China or India.

Still, the new data from the clean transportation council found that flights from airports in the United States were responsible for almost one quarter of global passenger flight-related carbon dioxide emissions. China was the next biggest source of passenger aviation emissions, followed by the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany ; the lowest-income countries that contain half the world’s population accounted for only 10 percent of all emissions.

The study underscored the heavy carbon-dioxide footprint of domestic flights, often left out of negotiations over global emissions-reduction targets. Domestic travel accounted for a large majority of departures in countries including the United States, China, Indonesia, Brazil and Australia.

Governments have pledged to take major steps to improve fuel economy in their routes and fleets. Under a plan adopted by the U.N. body, the International Civil Aviation Organization , three years ago, airlines will start to voluntarily offset most of the growth in their carbon dioxide emissions beginning in 2020. Carbon offsets compensate for emissions by canceling out greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the world. (For example, the offset may involve paying for renewable energy or other programs designed to reduce emissions.)

Some governments have suggested going further. In Germany, the Green Party has suggested banning domestic air travel altogether to force Germans to travel by train, which pollutes less.

“At a time when students are going on climate strikes around the world, this will really put pressure on the aviation industry to be much more ambitious,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “They’re beginning to understand that for most people who fly, aviation is the biggest part of their personal carbon footprint.”

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter .

An earlier version of this article misstated the nature of a global aviation summit meeting in Montreal next week. While industry representatives will be present as observers, the meeting is for airline regulators and diplomatic delegations, not executives.

How we handle corrections

Hiroko Tabuchi is a climate reporter. She joined The Times in 2008, and was part of the team awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. She previously wrote about Japanese economics, business and technology from Tokyo. More about Hiroko Tabuchi

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Air, Sea, Truck, or Rail: What’s the Best Shipping Mode in 2022?

air travel vs sea travel

Selecting the best shipping mode is difficult in the best of circumstances. But it’s become even tougher in a market rife with skyrocketing rates, blank sailings, congestion, and delays.

Shippers can draw on four main transit types to move goods from Point A to Point B:

  • Air Transport: Move freight quickly to almost any large city in the world.
  • Ocean: Economically ship goods across the sea when importing and exporting.
  • Truck: A standard transport method for small- to medium-sized goods moved across land.
  • Rail: A convenient way to transport large goods sustainably and cost-effectively.

Each type of transport comes with pros and cons. It’s important to know how these factors may impact your shipments. Weigh the costs of each transport method – and the value, size, and weight of the goods you plan to ship – before choosing a transport type.

Additionally, factor in current market trends, such as port congestion, escalating rates, labor shortages, etc. These challenges can also determine the best choice for your situation.

Air Shipping

Air freight will move approximately 69.3 million metric tons of goods in 2022. Robust e-commerce trends and an increase of planes in the air fuel this trend. Air cargo has become a critical transport mode as the globe faces supply chain challenges. It serves the demand for speed, flexibility, and efficiency. 

Transporting goods by air comes with key benefits:

  • It’s the fastest form of transit, making it ideal for urgent, time-sensitive parcels and small- to medium-sized cargo.
  • It gets handled less, and regulators require less documentation.
  • Security is top of the line, making it a great option for expensive cargo that meets size limitations.
  • Airlines maintain tight schedules with few delays.

But shipping by air also comes with drawbacks: 

  • It relies on consistent passenger flight schedules, which, though back to normal now, were decimated by restrictions during the pandemic.
  • It normally costs more in a typical market.
  • It comes with size and weight limitations. Regulatory bodies limit what airlines can and cannot transport. Lithium batteries and oddly shaped or extremely bulky items cannot move by air.

Air freight may be best if you are looking for a speedy and reliable delivery with minimal risk.

Ocean Shipping

Ocean carriers transport cargo by boat in standardized containers. Ships can move massive quantities of goods cost-effectively. But ocean freight rates and delays are growing as fast as ocean deliveries, causing companies to think twice before shipping by sea.

Still, ocean freight offers key advantages:

  • It typically offers the most competitive rates. It is estimated that rates are four to six times less expensive than air.
  • Allows shippers to move goods on a global scale, especially if time isn’t critical.
  • Transports full container load (FCL) or less-than-container load (LCL) shipments, depending on the quantity and dimension of goods.
  • Excellent for oversized, heavy, and bulky cargo.
  • Safest when shipping hazardous materials and dangerous cargo. Ships can carry these goods safely, and carriers seal and lock containers during transport.
  • It’s more environmentally friendly than other transport modes. Ships produce fewer grams of exhaust gas emissions for each ton of cargo than other shipping methods. 

But shipping by ocean also has drawbacks:

  • During the pandemic and with the surge in demand post-pandemic, many countries sent out all their containers to get cargo to the West as fast as possible. Now there is a container imbalance. Some ocean carriers are shipping empty containers because they receive more for them than full containers.
  • Rates are escalating. Companies once paid $1,500 to ship a 40-foot container of cargo by sea from Shanghai to the West Coast. Now shippers drop $10,500 for the same service.
  • Longer transit times persist. Traditionally, ships took 15 days to reach the United States. Now it takes 30-45 days to get to the West Coast and 60 days to reach the East Coast. 
  • Reliability has plummeted. Sea Intel reports schedule reliability has dropped to 33.6%.
  • Port congestion delays shipments. Vessels wait two weeks or more to unload at the busiest U.S. ports. 
  • China’s COVID-zero policies impact ocean shipping. At least 27 Chinese cities remain under full or partial lockdown, affecting top ports in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
  • Capacity shortages, congestion, and delays will continue, which will increase blank sailings.

The ocean freight industry faces unprecedented and chaotic conditions from port congestion, container shortages, delays, and labor shortages. Exploring your shipping options and moving time-sensitive items via other transport modes is vital. 

Ground Shipping

Ground shipping is an umbrella term that covers both rail and road transport. Trains carry cargo in large, standardized shipping containers, while trucks move goods via less-than-truckload (LTL) or full truckload (FTL) shipments. 

Each transport mode offers key advantages.

Rail advantages include:

  • Fewer issues with congestion than ports. 
  • Railroads represent the most efficient land transport; one rail car can haul as many as 400 trucks. 
  • Rail works well for longer journeys and is less expensive than trucking. The point of cost neutrality between rail and trucking is around 130 to 150 miles. 
  • Safer transport with an excellent safety record.
  • It helps ease road congestion and lower emissions. Trains burn less fuel per ton-mile than trucks.

Drawbacks to rail include:

  • Rail freight routes and timings are inflexible. Railroads will not adjust schedules to individual requirements.
  • With only one way in and one way out, shipments may get stuck when issues arise. 
  • Rail dwell time has increased from seven days in 2020 to nine days in 2022. 
  • Railroads struggle to hire enough laborers to meet demand.
  • Rail is a cost-effective, safe mode of transport, but shippers must plan for delays in the current shipping environment.

Trucking advantages include:

  • Great for moving goods across the United States. Truck transport is flexible, reliable, and cost-effective.
  • Various delivery methods are available for local, over-the-border, long- or short-haul deliveries, even in rural areas.
  • Trucking allows track and trace of cargo and the truck. 
  • Complete door-to-door service.

However, trucking also has drawbacks: 

  • Truck size limits the size and weight of cargo.
  • Delays occur with severe weather, poor road conditions, and excessive traffic congestion. 

Consider the benefits and drawbacks of trucking and rail before choosing one over the other.

How to Choose the Right Shipping Mode in 2022

Every organization and every shipment has differing needs. It’s vital to consider a few factors when considering your shipping mode.

Type and Quantity of Freight: The type and quantity of freight can dictate transport mode. For instance, shipping hazardous goods or massive construction equipment via plane may not be feasible, nor does it make sense to ship goods you need right away via ocean carrier.

Consider Quantity, Size, Weight, Dimensions, and Specific Loading/Transportation Requirements: Shippers may prefer ocean freight for oversized or hazardous goods, whereas air makes sense for smaller items. Heavier goods should ship via rail as roadways limit the weight trucks can carry. These are just a few examples of things that impact transport.

Time is of the essence with liquids or perishables. Here, steer away from ocean freight and move goods via air or truck.

Ship valuable goods, such as electronics, via truck where track-and-trace is possible, or via ocean, which transports goods via locked and secure containers.

Speed: Shipping speed matters when you need goods right away or goods are perishable. Air freight makes sense, but be aware of congestion in the current market. You might opt to truck large, heavy, or time-sensitive goods. This keeps costs low and expedites shipping.

Flexibility: In many shipping situations, flexibility is non-negotiable. For instance, you ship often and need goods regularly, have specialty goods with specific requirements and regulations, or ship to and from various locations. Truck transport may be the most flexible option, even if only to transport cargo to and from local airports and rail yards.

Cost: It’s vital to balance all other factors with cost-efficiency. The top consideration is to move goods quickly if cargo is valuable or perishable. But if there is no rush, choose the most cost-effective option. For example, move perishable fruit via air, but move bulky construction equipment via sea. 

Final Thoughts

As shipping faces skyrocketing shipping rates, blank sailings, congestion, labor shortages, and delays, it’s become even tougher to pick the right transport mode for your goods. 

Make sure you forecast accurately and book space early. Consider using several transit modes and break up shipments to ensure at least some cargo arrives on time. And use a freight forwarder to guide your decisions. These entities are intimately familiar with the shipping climate and can leverage their carrier relationships to move goods efficiently.

Storms will rage in the 2022 shipping climate. But when you know your shipping options, forecast well, and work with a logistics partner, you can tame the seas to keep shipments moving.

Learn freight forwarding best practices with our expert guide.

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Is cruising any greener than flying?

Cunard Cruises spokesman

“We do get people crossing the Atlantic because they don’t want to fly. Every ship has to meet environmental targets and the Queen Mary II has a zero-discharge policy.”

Climate Care , carbon offsetting company

“According to our calculations, a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg for a long-haul flight (even allowing for the further damage of emissions being produced in the upper atmosphere). Sometimes our instincts about what’s best for the environment are wrong and this shows the importance of calculating the actual carbon emissions from different activities and making our decisions - both as individuals and government policy - based on the real numbers. We would certainly welcome the cruise liner industry taking a closer look at their carbon footprint. As these figures show, it is not negligible.”

Richard Hammond, the Guardian's green travel columnist

"Quite aside from the carbon emissions, there is a high cost to the ocean. The cruise industry has a poor record in terms of waste water treatment and disposal, and therefore it has to clean up its act if it is to be considered as an environmentally friendly means of travel. The size of the industry is also crucial: cruising is the fastest growing sector of the travel industry. In 2003, 9.3 million passengers took a cruise while the International Eco-tourism Society projects that 17 million passengers will do so in 2010.”

Gwyn Topham, author of Overboard: the stories cruise lines don't want told

“Mile for mile, the carbon footprint for a cruise is worse - and many passengers will take planes to join a cruise. Since the big cruise lines were hit with massive fines in the US for polluting waters a few years ago, they have made improvements - but ships are not facing that same kind of scrutiny outside Alaska and California. The overall benefits to the ports of call are questionable. And while environmentalists do generally agree that new ships are greener, it takes a long time to adapt older ships and in many areas - such as cleaner fuel, better waste treatment systems - campaigners think cruise lines aren't doing nearly enough.”

Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern

"It’s not greener, and it's a much broader issue than carbon emissions alone. Cruise ships are the ultimate all-inclusive holiday experience where everything is paid for before you board. So the benefits to locals when you dock are minimal, but they have to deal with the waste that the cruise ship leaves behind. While you're on board huge amounts of electricity will be used to provide everyone with the services they expect.”

Justin Francis, Responsible Travel

“You might naturally assume that a ship would emit less carbon dioxide than a long-haul flight but it’s not the case. On a typical one-week voyage a cruise ship generates more than 50 tonnes of garbage and a million tonnes of grey (waste) water, 210,000 gallons of sewage and 35,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water. Some of this is pumped into ocean and some treated. The cultural impact of large numbers of tourists descending on, in some cases, small destinations has also been overlooked. People are after simple answers, simple solutions. But we’ve oversimplified it with flying: if people really want to reduce their carbon, they can make a larger difference by lagging their boiler or taking showers not baths, rather than cutting out a flight to somewhere which needs it.”

George Monbiot , environmental campaigner and author

“There are remarkably few figures. But George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network has conducted a rough initial calculation for the Queen Elizabeth II. Cunard says the ship burns 433 tonnes of fuel a day, and takes six days to travel from Southampton to New York. If the ship is full, every passenger with a return ticket consumes 2.9 tonnes. A tonne of shipping fuel contains 0.85 tonnes of carbon, which produces 3.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide when it is burnt. Every passenger is responsible for 9.1 tonnes of emissions. Travelling to New York and back on the QEII, in other words, uses almost 7.6 times as much carbon as making the same journey by plane.”

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Air freight versus ocean freight: which should you choose.

Is it a question of price, speed, convenience, or cargo safety? Check the factors when choosing between air and ocean for freight transportation.

Katherine Barrios

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air travel vs sea travel

Is it a question of price, speed, convenience, or cargo safety? These are the questions shippers and forwarders consider when choosing air and sea for freight transportation.

Of course, the answer could be all of the above, and often is, so how does one decide which mode of transit is optimal for a particular shipment? For clients who ship cargo overseas, the choice of whether to use sea freight or air freight will depend on a few factors, including:

-        Distance

-        Type of cargo

-        Time sensitivity

-        Cost consideration

-        Cargo safety

-        Accessibility

The following table will elaborate on how each of the above aspects differs between the ocean and air freight and why.

Red Sea Crisis | Ocean Freight Strategy

A customer may have various requirements influencing their decision regarding the mode of transport to be used, but essentially, it comes down to the nature of the freight, the time frame, and how much the shipper is willing and able to spend.

Why Use Air Freight

Perishable goods, like flowers and fresh produce, are often pigeon-holed into being carried by air freight because of their short lifetime. Naturally, there are many exceptions, like bananas, which travel on ships due to their long ripening process.

North America and Europe are both huge consumers of flowers, especially around holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. These flowers are mainly sourced from South America and East Africa, so air freight is an obvious choice in such an instance.

Demand for cargo capacity on freight carriers tends to vary seasonally. A recent example is an unprecedented spike in demand for flowers that occurred before Valentine’s Day, which caused a scramble for freight capacity on planes flying from Kenya to Europe, where most of the flowers were sourced. Some carriers reported that the traffic moved in anticipation of the holiday soared to nearly double average rates.

Some pharmaceutical products also tend to be carried by air freight because of their temperature sensitivity, which, if not monitored properly, can result in the product being spoiled and pallets of potential profit wasted. That means they need to be shipped within a limited time frame, with maximum visibility. However, depending on the exact nature of the pharmaceutical companies' cargo, reefer containers on ships are also frequently used.

Container ship at port

Pros and Cons of Ocean Freight

E-commerce goods like electronics, cosmetics, apparel, and home goods are good candidates for ocean freight.

This mode of long-distance transportation is an excellent option because it is much less expensive than moving products by air. If time is not an essential deciding factor in choosing a preferred mode of freight,  ocean freight is the obvious choice.

One downside of ocean freight is that it can be difficult to predict and control the timeline due to circumstances like congestion at ports, which can end up causing delays.

A prudent customer would always seek a good balance between the service quality offered, cost component, service provider's reliability, and time frame.

It's essential to keep an eye on the air and ocean markets as both are highly volatile. Readily available rate data for benchmarking and market intelligence for both markets will make tendering and negotiations for BCO procurement professionals more efficient.

In many cases, depending on how market rates are moving and other market dynamics, one mode of transport can be chosen over the other. Real-time and on-demand ocean freight rates data allows professionals to react instantaneously and make the right decision that positively impacts the bottom line.

Additional Resources

Approaching two months into the crisis, the impact of Red Sea is felt globally on ocean freight. Now, the market shows signs of switching to air freight.

Container Freight Industry News | Air freight

Love is in the air… the impact of valentine’s day on air freight.

2024 promised classic seasonality in the air freight market, then came the escalation of the Red Sea crisis

Container Freight Industry News | Market Analysis

Are the red sea crisis and lunar new year impacting the transpacific market, impact of red sea crisis on china to europe air cargo market and sea-air alternatives, say goodbye   to freight rate uncertainty with   real-time data.

Every second, our platform processes 400M+ data points from the world's largest shipping companies for unmatched, real-time market intelligence.

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